Refugees welcome: we must tackle root causes

14 September 2015

Magda Stoczkiewicz, the director of Friends of the Earth Europe, on why we must do more to tackle the root causes of the refugee situation, being discussed today in Brussels.


When discussing the mass movement of refugees to Europe that we are witnessing – including the more than 1,000 who have been given makeshift shelters in Brussels just a short distance from where ministers will meet today to discuss an EU-wide response – we can all agree this: the drivers are multiple, complex and interlocking.

Many of us in civil society are making links between this summer's refugee situation and the issues we work on; poverty, conflict, arms, environmental degradation, social injustice. All of these links are valid. What matters is that we look at them all and address not only the symptoms but their root causes.

If we want to reduce the future suffering of millions of refugees, and politicians want to avoid more shameful paralysis in the years ahead, we need to make all the links in the bigger picture and start acting on the drivers.

Surprisingly, this is not contested even by those in power. President Juncker in his State of the Union address on Wednesday talked about tomorrow's 'climate refugees', and earlier this month Donald Tusk made a volte-face from his previous position as prime minister of Poland when he confessed to EU ambassadors climate change is "having an impact on migration flows that we know is real, even if it is hard to quantify". Climate change may not be the root cause of a conflict or crisis but it is likely to exacerbate it.

The continued burning of fossil fuels has already locked us in to at least one degree Celsius of warming. The failure of Europe and other rich world regions to tackle climate change means we are still on trajectory to a global increase of up to six degrees. Climate change of this magnitude would see crops fail, diseases spread, supply routes disrupted, extreme weather events intensify, and worsen volatile situations and likely lead to conflicts and wars over water, food and other key resources. As history shows, it will be the poor and the marginalised who suffer the worst consequences.

Climate action is by no means a panacea but without it more people will undeniably seek to move in search of safety and a better life. Europe has a chance to show it is taking the urgent, drastic action necessary to tackle the climate crisis at this Friday's Environment Council, when ministers will agree a position for this December's global climate summit in Paris. The emissions reductions currently pledged by the EU will not suffice.

Meanwhile, resource extraction and use is a significant contributing factor to many of the violent conflicts that cause people to make perilous journeys to faraway lands. Reckless European overconsumption drains poorer nations of their natural resources, driving up prices and fuelling conflicts. Urgent action to measure and reduce our use of resources in the EU in absolute terms is imperative. In addition to climate action, the upcoming re-tabled Circular Economy package will be an important test of this.

In a globalised world, what we do here in Europe impacts the rest of the world. Our trade deals impoverish the Global South, while our multi-nationals make huge profits from exploiting its natural resources. Our arms deals arm the dictators, and our economic system fuels the demand for ever-cheaper products by externalising the costs to the poor and the natural world. These are the systemic issues European leaders need to face if they want to work towards a world where people are not displaced. And if the EU doesn't act, it will only accelerate them.

Today's special meeting on migration comes after a weekend of demonstrations across Europe in which tens of thousands took to the streets to say 'Refugees Welcome'. But the citizen response is more than slogan shouting and marching – in Brussels and throughout Europe people have stepped in to support makeshift refugee camps with donations, time and compassion. As usual citizens are far ahead of governments. People are saying another Europe is possible. Our governments now need to show they believe this too, by making the links between the fundamental causes, addressing the root drivers and by building a more sustainable, fair and inclusive world.

First published in the Parliament Magazine, EU leaders must tackle root causes of refugee and migration crisis, September 11, 2015